Too angry, too fast, too close: French drivers confess their bad habits

Most say they are afraid, insult others and talk on the phone in a major study, which compares self-declared driving behaviour in several countries

Split image of man texting in car and poll results
The study of drivers in 11 European countries suggests that French drivers are particularly ill-tempered
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The majority of French drivers say they are fearful, aggressive and distracted as part of a vast new study of driving habits by a road safety advocacy group. 

We look at what this study reveals about French drivers, how they compare to their European neighbours and whether they are getting worse.

French roads are historically far more deadly than those in the UK: in the year ending June 2023, there were 1,633 UK vehicle accident deaths (down 9% on the previous year), compared to 3,170 in France (down 4%).

However, the first quarter of 2024 actually saw an increase in road deaths in France over the same period of 2023, despite the increase in the number of speed cameras and the boom in speeding fines.

Read more: Driving in France: why are the roads more deadly than in the UK? 

As part of their annual report on the state of French and European driving, the Fondation Vinci Autoroutes commissioned a survey of 12,413 people across 11 countries, including the UK.*

The survey involved drivers agreeing or disagreeing to statements about their own behaviour - anonymously self reporting their own failings. The results were released on May 7.

“The image of French drivers in this report shows a society split by the fear of rising violence - including on road violence - and the problems that everyone has with managing these tendencies,” said Fondation Vinci Delegate General Bernadette Moreau in the report.

French Drivers rights group La Ligue de Défense des Conducteurs told The Connexion that the anger and fear of drivers is symptomatic of a wider problem in French society. 

"There is a problem of prevention for certain specific points," said spokesperson Nathalie Troussard. "But other than on motorways there is little communication in terms of safety in France."

The key findings

French drivers are particularly aggressive:

  • 88% of French drivers are afraid of the aggressive tendencies of other drivers (For the other 10 countries this was 83%).

  • 67% of French drivers admit to insulting other drivers (52%)

  • 55% of French drivers beep their horn out of anger (50%)

  • 32% of French drivers deliberately tailgate drivers who annoy them (30%)

French drivers go too fast:

  • 91% of French drivers say they go over the speed limit by a few kilometres per hour (for the other 10 countries this was 85%)

  • 72% of French drivers do not respect safety distances with the car in front of them (58%)

French drivers are increasingly distracted at the wheel:

  • 65% of French drivers telephone while driving (for the other 10 countries this was 67%), a percentage rising +11% since 2018

  • 87% of French drivers say they turn their eyes away from the road for more than two seconds while driving, up 13% since 2020 (84%)

French drivers take the wheel when tired:

  • 43% of French drivers admit to driving when extremely tired (for the other 10 countries this was 38%)

Of these drivers:

  • 42% have felt like they were falling asleep while driving (38%)

  • 20% have had or almost had an accident due to this (18%)

French drivers are more likely to drink and drive:

  • 26% of men aged between 25 and 34 drink and drive or have done (for the other 10 countries this was 17%)

  • 9% of the general French population drink and drive or have done (7%)

  • 16% of men aged between 25 and 34 smoke cannabis and drive or have done (9%)

French drivers think they drive well and others drive badly:

  • 96% of French drivers describe themselves in positive terms (For the other 10 countries this was 97%)

  • 85% of French drivers describe other drivers in negative terms (80%)

Of these negative terms:

  • Dangerous 41% (28%)

  • Aggressive 37% (30%)

French drivers often forget to indicate:

  • 59% of French drivers often forget to indicate (for the other 10 countries this was 52%)

Some silver linings in the report

  • Fewer French drivers use the middle lane on the motorway when the right lane is free - down by 3% since 2018 to 46% (for the other 10 countries this was 53%)

  • Fewer French drivers watch films while driving - down by 1% since 2018 to 7% (8%)

  • Fewer French drivers get out of their cars to confront other drivers, only 18% as opposed to 21% in the other 10 countries

As a reminder of the deadly consequences of bad driving habits, the report notes that seven agents of Vinci Autoroutes have been killed while working since 2022.

“Respecting the highway code, bearing in mind the consequences or you actions for yourselves and other and resisting individualism are all ways to combat road violence and violence in general,” said Ms Moreau.

*Online survey by market research firm Ipsos of 12,413 people from 11 countries (including 2,413 in France and at least 1,000 each from Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, UK, Slovakia, Sweden) aged 16 and over conducted between February 19 and March 19, 2024. The study is called the 14e Baromètre de la conduite responsable